Monday, April 12, 2010

A foreign city without soldiers

So the strangest thing about the US, well, kind of felt like this a bit in the UK too, but it feels more pronounced here, the strangest thing is the way people just live here, a nation a supposedly at war, and it feels like nothing, because the wars are so far away that unless you are yourself in the armed forces or a relative or close friend of someone who is, you just forget about it, except maybe for worrying about your tax dollars or something and it is all just so weird.

There is no Thursday evening crush of soldiers home on weekend passes, no uniforms at every turn, no draft, as in the Israeli song, this is a foreign city without soldiers, and it is just so true, even in DC or Norfolk or Groton, the vibe is just different. All those quirky little things in Israel, like the way folks with gun permits casually go armed, friends who come to tea with a sidearm in their belts, because, that is life, and folks living in dangerous areas go openly armed, they way the guard at the mall asks if you are carrying a weapon or the tannoy at the airport reminds people that weapons are not allowed there, in the same voice she uses to remind you that smoking is only permitted in designated areas.

It isn't that back home I notice these things so much, they just are, but here in the US I notice their absence, like something is missing, and I know I've written about this before, but each time I visit the US it hits me all over again, especially visiting the US at a time when that country is at war.

Because (as far as I know) you can't get a 24 hour (let alone a 12 hour) pass to come home to the US from Iraq or Afghanistan - it can take that long just to make the journey back. So for most people the wars their country is fighting become academic, arguments about morals and resources and politics, not, well, either we fight or the guys who have homes an hour away from our homes will get even bigger missiles and target our homes too. I mean, no, I don't have that though in the back of my mind all the time or even most of the time, but it's there. I know its a real threat.

It isn't in the US though and I can't decide whether that makes me jealous of this sense of peace, or worried that these folks don't really understand what's out there, especially the guy sitting the White House screwing over my country because (I think) he believes that sacrificing us will bring world peace. And yeah, that is kind of upsetting, but nothing new there, enough people have believed that for enough years, even a few presidents, though nothing quite as extreme as this I think.

But leaving personal fears for my country aside, I feel like the people here just dont get what's out there, hating them, wanting to hurt them, because its so far away, and maybe that's good, because it means that the perpetrators of 9-11 didn't win, didn't get to break America, but it's bad because it means that the people here don't understand that there are hate filled people around the world just waiting for another chance to make the US hurt, and they'll take any chance they can get.

I can't quite get my mind around the idea of a front so far away that, well, it's quite genuinely out of sight out of mind. Not that in Israel life didn't go on more or less as usual with a front an hour or so away from home, and perhaps that is even crazier than the way things are in the US with it half a world away, but still, I think that we all know back home that normalcy, however much we live it on a daily basis, is a fragile, precious thing, because every security check and every kid in uniform reminds us of the price we pay. And maybe I have a bee in my bonnet, but even post 9-11, Americans just seem to take that freedom and security for granted, save perhaps for friends and family in NY who saw and felt that fateful day's events up close and personal, whose lives were forever changed by it the way Lebanon and Oslo and Gaza changed ours, but maybe not even them. 9-11 was a one time thing, not continuous, wave after wave of there but for the grace of God like we live with every few years.

More than anything though is this feeling of either blithe false security or plain ignorance or maybe real safety, I don't know, the way there are no security checks when you go into the mall or a sporting event, hundreds, maybe thousands of people, and it's all just wide open, because hey, they security check like wackos at the airport, so nothing can get in, right? (And of course without profiling, they can't screen effectively.) It all just feels so vulnerable, so open, so unprotected.

It was weird hearing a lecture about Mid East events given by an American to Americans, just being an Israeli fly on the wall and listening to people's views and ideas. Really weird. And a bit creepy, seeing as this is the country trying to save the world, well, I think it is, maybe it's just trying to protect its own interests, but it's nice to think that the US still has the idealism to protect freedom and democracy worldwide. Maybe.

So after this talk, some people are chatting in the lobby, and someone is self-righteously going on about how Israel should just smash Gaza and kick out its residents (well, its not as if her sons or husband are going to have to to the fighting or expelling, so who cares if someone else is going to do the dirty work), and how crazy it is that Israelis have lived with missiles for so long (and yes, it is, and they still are) and my kid, not yet 5, pipes up and says, well, you don't really need to worry about the missiles, it's OK, when you hear the siren you just get under a heavy table or run for your shelter, and the woman just gapes, and my daughter adds, it's the same as the earthquake drill, rooms without windows are good too.

And yeah, I did teach my kid what to do, and yes, I pray with all my heart she never needs to, and no, it isn't what I planned on having to teach my toddler, but I would rather she know and be prepared than for God forbid that siren come and she doesn't know what to do. Well, this American woman looks at me in shock, and I explain that I believe my kid needs to know, and that in Israel, Memorial Day is something real and palpable and we explain it to the little kids, as generally and obliquely as possible, but they get the idea, they know why there is a memorial siren on Memorial Day and Holocaust Memorial Day, because that is life, and we don't dwell on it (subject matter of this post aside, I really try not to go into it with my kids), but they need to know, so they know. Does it harm their childish innocence, maybe, means they know a little more about the real world that I hope to God I didn't need to explain to them, sadly, yes, I think so, but it's not like I explain the details.

So I guess that is what is bugging me, a mix of feeling plain insecure because of the lack of a security presence here, but also just a disconnect with how people feel in their world, a lack of realism, a feeling of fantasy, and that's not the cliched critique of American materialism and consumption, I think that goes on in much of the world, though the scale of it here is staggering, no, it's more the mindset, the way people are so removed from a lot of what their country is doing, or just the way life is elsewhere in the world. Like my standard critique of all the sci-fi shows where the American explorers tell the aliens what life is like on Earth, and they basically mean what life is like in America, because if John Crichton had been from Israel he would have landed on his feet much sooner in the Uncharted Territories.